Get Paid By Your Employer to Volunteer?

David Cameron announces 15 million workers will get three days paid volunteering leave each year. But did you know that lots of companies already offer something similar?
Personally, I think its a brilliant idea. Busy people don’t like to give up their weekends but if you could have Monday to spend volunteering you would probably find it much more appealing. 3 days is not much, but imagine if everyone did 3 full volunteering days every year? Many small charities rely heavily on volunteers to survive.
I found this great article from last year on why employers should pay their workers to volunteer; http://www.fastcompany.com/3027465/dialed/why-every-company-should-pay-employees-to-volunteer 
The benefits of volunteerism are clear. It is very easy to become wrapped up in your busy routine of work, the daily pressures of life and volunteering is such a great way to regain perspective. It is an opportunity to become active in your community. It’s a great way to engage with social issues and a chance to share skills and experience.
While I think the concept is great, especially, if big businesses foot the bill (like the ones who already have a volunteer scheme in place) there are a lot of concerns surrounding Cameron’s proposal. Namely, funding for public sector workers. Who will cover a nurse or teacher if they are volunteering, and who will pay for the cover?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one!

The Gift of Healthy Feet: Podiatry Students help the homeless

10442368_10152581611411498_3667243762391989555_n   Another beautiful example of using your skills/talents to give back to those less fortunate than you.

My gorgeous friend, Jackie, teamed up with her fellow podiatry students to provide people staying in homeless centres with new shoes and socks, and most importantly, treatments.

I asked Jackie to tell us more about this amazing project!

Can you tell us a little about your project, The Gift of Healthy Feet?

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The Gift of Healthy Feet is a student/ lecturer initiative. There are 6 team members. Dr Elaine Hyslop is the lead staff partner. Fiona Mullins, Final Year Podiatry student is the Lead student partner. Four other final year Podiatry students, Jacqueline Hartigan, Ellen Gorman, Siobhan O’ Meara and Bria Connolly make up the team of The Gift of Healthy Feet.

We are also working with Nurse Joan Gavin, who is an angel who works daily with the homeless community and we have co-ordinated the project under her guidance.

This project involved going to Homeless shelters and care homes in Galway city and a day care drop in centre in Ballinasloe in Galway providing podiatry services across the city and county which take in people in crisis accommodation and rough sleeping through to resettlement and independent living clients who have been re-integrated back into the local community.

We set up mobile work stations and provided podiatric care to the homeless and long term residents of some of the homes.

We worked with COPE, St Vincent’s De Paul, and Galway Simon Community.

We will present our project at the Explore poster presentation day in May at NUIG.

Dr Elaine Hyslop volunteers once a month in the Fairgreen Hostel once a month. She provides podiatric care to the homeless community.

What successes have you had so far?

We have completed 5 homeless shelters so far. We have provided Podiatric services to the homeless of Galway city and Ballinasloe. We have provided socks and shoes to all male recipients. We purchased socks at a local departments store and we ran a shoe drive over the Christmas period asking members of the public for donations. We received 126 pairs of shoes off a shoe company who wish to remain anonymous. We also had three drop off points throughout Galway city. The team members collected donations, cleaned up shoes and went to work at sorting out all shoe sizes and suitability to provide to the men at the homeless shelters.  The Lead Staff member Dr Elaine Hyslop was interviewed on local radio and the local paper in College wrote on article on the project.

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What inspired you to get involved with start up this project?

I was approached by my friend and fellow final year Podiatry student Fiona Mullins. We had a module on vulnerable adults last semester and homelessness was addressed and a man who lived on the streets previously came to tell us his story. The problems with homelessness continue to be highlighted every Christmas, but awareness drops again following the Christmas period. Our project is ongoing throughout the College year. I love volunteering and I was excited to be a part of such a wonderful meaningful and necessary project. As I am a final year Podiatry student I understand the importance of foot health. Providing podiatric services and advising the homeless on foot health and providing shoes and socks were an excellent opportunity for me to give back to the community and those at risk. So I didn’t have to think twice about being a part of The Gift of Healthy Feet.

It is hoped that this project continues to run every year with Podiatry students and the community.

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 How can people help you guys out?

Donations of shoes and socks can be donated to the University.

Drop off sites:

On campus donations are welcome at :
• Discipline of Podiatry Aras Moyola
• Research Office foyer at the Business and Innovation Centre
• Students’ Union in Áras na Mac Léinn

City donations are welcome at:
• Galway Simon Shop Briarhill,
• Galway Simon Shop – Sea road,
• COPE Shop – St Augustine Street
What advice would you give anyone wanting to do something like this in their own area?

Just get up and do it. There is nothing more rewarding than helping someone out. Working on this project has allowed me to interact with people I would not normally be in contact with. I have met so many wonderful beautiful souls. They are so thankful for our time and appreciated our help. It is without a doubt the most rewarding work I have ever done. I will definitely continue to volunteer in homeless shelters and in the community providing podiatric care once I am qualified.

Volunteering is good for the soul and nothing else gives you satisfaction than helping someone out and giving someone your time.

Love and Light

Jacqueline Hartigan

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If, like me, this has inspired you to do some volunteering, or even set up your own project please have a look at some of the volunteer “how to”articles and get in touch if you have any questions.

Homelessness in the UK and How You Can Help

You can’t go about your day in London without passing a homeless person and probably a lot more than one. It absolutely breaks my heart and with the weather getting colder and colder, it’s more important than ever to something about it. I have been wanting to volunteer with an organisation that looks after homeless people for months but it was the kinds acts of a few friends that finally spurred me into action. I have spent the evening contacting charities and hope to have a regular volunteer position in the next few days. For anyone that wants to join me, I will post details as soon as I have them.

The most sickening and upsetting part about it is the amount of people who walk past, seemingly unaffected, and go about their day. Homeless people are treated like a scourge, and ignored. Noone wants them there, they make us feel bad. They make us feel guilty.

I think a lot of people try to justify ignoring homeless people by relying on outdated preconceived ideas about how people end up on the street. They put it down to personal failure, drug addiction, or even personal choice but the real reasons people become homeless are much more complex. In fact, a relationship breakdown is one of the main causes of homelessness. Domestic violence, unemployment, mental health issues, sexual or physical abuse, lack of affordable housing, lack of support and crippling debts are all also high in the list.

In recent years, the success of the Facebook page, Humans of New York has done a great job of reminding us that homeless people are people too. They are just like you and I. Humans of New York, in case you are not familiar, is a photo project. People from all walks of life are photographed and their pictures accompanied by a quote or anecdote. Some are funny, some are extremely sad, some are real eye-openers and all of them are real stories about real people. The people behind HONY do a beautiful job of capturing all facets of life and many more “Humans of …” pages are popping up all over the net.

This graffitti artist in LA draws homeless people’s dream homes.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/16/graffiti-artist-homeless-dreams-skid-robot-photos_n_5991808.html

Homelessness in the UK

The most recent figure I could find is that on any given night in the UK, about 2,414 people are sleeping rough. And numbers are increasing. This figure doesn’t include anyone sleeping in shelters or with family or friends. This is the number of people out in streets. However, it is very difficult to calculate the actual number of people without a home and research suggests up to 62% of homeless people are “hidden” and will not show up in official figures.

There are an estimated 400000 “hidden homeless” in London.

Homeless Veterans

Its enrages me to think that such a huge number of people sleeping rough are ex-military. People who have risked their lives for their country are disregarded when they get home. Many suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and other health issues caused by their time in service and many more have problems with drugs and alcohol. It is estimated that up to 100 veterans sleep rough every night in London. What does that say bout our society?

How you can help

Not everyone has the time to volunteer, but you can always do something small to help. Buy someone sleeping rough a coffee, tea or even some hot soup. Donate spare blankets, sleeping bags and flasks. Donate shoes and socks, jackets and warm clothes. No one should be sleeping rough, especially in this weather.

If you DO have time to volunteer here are some great organisations you can contact and see what you can do in your area;

St Mungos; http://www.mungosbroadway.org.uk/how_you_can_help/volunteer

Shelter; http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_involved/volunteer

Shelter from the Storm; http://www.sfts.org.uk/volunteer/

Streets of London ; http://www.streetsoflondon.org.uk/about-homelessness

Crisis ; http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/volunteer.html

Chorlton Mad Dogs; these guys are in Manchester. They collect donated food and cook up hot meals and deliver them to homeless people all around the city. You can follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Anyone could end up on the streets. Some of us are lucky enough to have friends and family that are in a position to support us when we fall on hard times and the means to pick ourselves back up again. I have been fortunate enough to get a good education which makes me more employable and makes job application forms more manageable. I speak fluent English. I have appropriate interview clothes and skills. I didn’t do a single thing to earn these privileges but benefit from the every day.

A poll of 2,000 UK adults we commissioned in December 2013, found that 32% of people have experienced homelessness (including sofa surfing and staying with friends) or know someone who has experienced homelessness. 14% had experienced it themselves, 20% knew someone else who had experienced it, 2% said they had both experienced it and knew others who had. –  (homeless.org.uk)

Be thankful for what you have and help out those less fortunate than you whenever you can.

Free Haircuts for Homeless in NYC: Using your Skills to Give Back

There are numerous ways in which you can give back to your community, donate your time, your money or your skills. One of the main points I have made over the years in my posts about volunteers is how important it is to first think about skills you have and how you can share them.

Whether you like painting or dancing, football or computer science, you can use your talents to help out charity organisations.

I wanted to share some lovely articles I have come across over the past few months as great examples of this.

The first one gave me the idea for this post, a hairdresser in NYC spends his Sundays giving free haircuts to the homeless. A fantastic way to boost their self esteem and feel like a person and not just an invisible homeless person. And a great example of someone who uses their initiative and skills in a creative and thoughtful way to give back to his community.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2730212/Swapping-salon-streets-New-York-City-hair-stylist-transforms-looks-homeless-gives-free-haircuts-day-off.html

It also reminded me of the Cambodian Children’s Painting project, which I discovered when travelling in Sihonoukville in 2009.

http://www.calias.net/#/something-is-changing/cambodian-childrens-painting-project/sihanoukTAN2007hd20

I bought one of the paintings and it is at my Mom’s house in storage (I WILL have a permanent address soon if it kills me!!). I will attach a picture of  it when I next get to open those boxes.

These legendary guys set up a mobile laundromat in the back of their van!!!! http://anonhq.com/two-students-turn-their-van-into-mobile-laundry-car-for-the-homeless/

A photography project;   http://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/giving-something-back-with-photography-10-ways-to-get-started–photo-4897

Social media knowledge;   http://www.nonprofittechforgood.com/

A great HuffPost article;

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tracy-hoover/think-differently-use-you_b_4218983.html

Whatever is it you are good at, you can use that for good.

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Harmony Home Taiwan: 2014 Secret Santa Toy Drive

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I first heard about Harmony Home a few years ago on a Taiwan expat forum, Forumosa. I had been looking for somewhere to volunteer and it sounded perfect. Harmony Home has become very dear to my heart and I have such respect and admiration for the staff that work tirelessly to run the centre and to care for the kids.

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It all began in 1986…

 when Nicole Yang welcomed her friend, the renowned Taiwanese theater artist, Tian Chi-yuan to her home with her two children.  He had nowhere else to go because he was HIV positive. It was the time when there was no proper medical treatment available and there was insufficient understanding of the disease. The rapid increase of AIDS patients has caused negative responses in the society. This further induced withdrawal of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) out of fear of being discriminated. Being aware of this sad situation, Nicole opened up her home to PLHA to provide them with a secure place to live in. Out of compassion, she established Harmony Home with the hope of fully reintegrating them to the society.
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As is usually the case, it took a couple of e-mails to get a reply but when I did, it was friendly and enthusiastic and I couldn’t wait to get involved. My first visit was a little chaotic, there were kids running around everywhere, my Chinese was almost non-existent and everyone looked far too busy to be bothered with me. It took a few visits to get used to the way things are done but every time I came the kids would jump up and come to hug me. I taught English there with two friends, one person with all those kids was just not enough!! They have a classroom upstairs with lots of arts and crafts supplies. After a few months, I decided to organize some outings for the kids. It would be a nice break for the nannies and great for the kids to get out and let off some steam! They are often cooped up inside and end up fighting over toys and the TV. Our first outing was a hike in Xin Yi and the kids absolutely loved it! A group of friends came, with their dogs and toddlers in tow and everyone had a great afternoon.

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After that, we started going to the park regularly. The kids had the freedom to run around and play with adult supervision. Some of the kids were curious about the volunteers, others were too shy but either way, they were out and about and getting fresh air and exercise. One particular Saturday, we had a lot of dogs with us and the kids loved them! They were fascinated and took turns walking them and feeding them snacks. For some of the kids, it was their first experience with a pet because they have grown up in the centre. It was so lovely to see!

My favourite outing, however, had to be the trip we took to the public swimming pool. It was in the middle of a melting summer and the park was just a bit too hot. The kids were exhausted and hiding under the slide for shade so we took them to the outdoor pool instead. The LOVED it! For a lot of the little kids, it was their first time swimming and they had so much fun.

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I have continued to be involved with Harmony Home as a fundraiser and coordinator even though I can’t go and see the kids any more and will keep doing so for as long as I can. Recently, Harmony Home have been on the receiving end of a horrible campaign to remove them from their centre on Xin Yi due to neighbours complaining and it is really heartbreaking to hear about it all. They really need support this year and thanks to my amazing friends and the Harmony Home volunteer network I think 2014 is going to end of a very positive note.

Throughout my time volunteering with Harmony Home we have had so many fun events, two VERY successful drag shows at Dalida, my Black and White birthday, two Halloween parties, Pride parade and two Christmas parties. On top of that, we have had more clothes, books and appliances than I can count as well as tons of new volunteers and patrons. The generosity of the community in Taipei never fails to amaze me!

Our current event is the annual Secret Santa event which is in its third, and what looks to be biggest, year! Here’s the basic idea:

Dear volunteers and supporters,

I am sure you are all familiar with “secret santa” concept. You pick a number out of a hat and buy an anonymous gift for that person.
I’d like to do something similar this year for the kids at Harmony Home.
It will be all the kids name in the hat and you guys will be buying a gift for one of them.
I have a list of each of their names, ages and genders.
All you have to do is let me know you would like to take part and I will allocate you a kid. I’ll give you the info and then you go and buy them a gift, wrap it and put their name on it.
This way, each kid in the centre will get a lovely gift, chosen just for them.
I’d like to set a spending limit because everyone has different budgets and we don’t want some kids to receive really extravagant gifts. Rather, if you would like to give more or you have extra cash, I can allocate you more children!

Lets say, around 500NT.

This year, we have had such an overwhelming response that we have so many more donors than kids!!! For anyone who wants to get involved from now, you can make a donation via PayPal or credit card here or make a donation in kind (list here)and drop it off either at the centre 1F No.262-1, Jiaxing St., Xinyi District, Taipei City 110 or at the Christmas show Santaland Diaries.

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VSO: The Volunteer Experts

VSO-logo1I’ve been thinking about adding a section with details on specific organisations. I’m going to start off with an excellent volunteer group- VSO. If you are a skilled professional and you are looking for a way to use your skills and expertise where it is needed most, VSO are a fantastic organisation to get involved with.

A while back, I featured Sarah Naughton, a friend of mine who volunteered in Rwanda a few years ago, in the ” volunteer experiences” section and she described her volunteer placement with VSO. I was really impressed with how Sarah described VSO, and I’ve always been a big fan of how they operate. Here’s why:

– they are dedicated to long term solutions

-they send experts in their fields, to ensure that projects succed

-they ask volunteers to commit for at least 6 months, non of this ” gap year” two week business.

VSO is one of the world largest volunteer networks in the world, and like the UN, they want the best of the best for the projects. They advertise their placements the same way the advertise paid positions and if you want to apply, you will need to send you CV and a covering letter. It is competitive and they want the right person for each position. You must commit to at least 6 months, and fundraise for your trip. This is volunteering done right.

If you cannot commit to a longer term placement overseas, VSO encourage you to volunteer for them at home where you can campaign and fundraise. They have lots of ideas on the website to help get you started.

Do you know another great volunteer group that you would recommend for someone wanting to volunteer overseas? Please comment or e-mail me volunteerasia@hotmail.com

The Plight of Asian Elephants: Volunteering in Thailand

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My first overseas volunteering experience was in Thailand in 2008 at WFFT with Globalteer. It was the beginning of a year travelling and I couldn’t think of a better start to an amazing year. WFFT is an animal rescue centre about 6 hours outside Bangkok, in a beautiful rural area. The grounds themselves are picturesque. It was like living in the middle of the jungle. I was volunteering as part of the group looking after abused elephants in the elephant sanctuary part of the centre. During the day, the elephants stay in an enclosure and are fed and cleaned. They love to eat pineapples and watermelons. At night, they are walked out into the forest to graze and sleep. Every night they need to be left in a different spot in a bid to outsmart poachers who steal elephants for the tourist trade. In the morning, they are walked back to the centre. The morning and evening walks were amazing.

EVERY year without fail, I see people on my Facebook riding elephants on holiday in Thailand and other popular destinations and it breaks my heart. I often post articles to try and deter them but it mostly falls on deaf ears. (More of that willful ignorance I have mentioned before). Its seems people are more interested in having that quintessential elephant ride or tiger or monkey picture than learning about how the animals are treated. In reality, the animals are captured by killing the parents and stealing the young. To train them, they are starved and beaten into submission to break their spirits and once trained are kept in awful conditions.

Elephants in Thailand.  (from Globalteer.org)

There are only around 2,000-3,000 wild elephants in Thailand

When commercial logging was banned in Thailand there was no longer a demand for working elephants and their owners were forced to resort to different ways to make an income. Unfortunately, in many cases, this meant exploiting the elephants for the tourist industry.

The growth of urban areas in Thailand, has seen the elephants natural habitat become smaller and smaller. 

Many elephant owners took their animals to the big cities and today there are many elephants roaming the city streets at night, the dirty, hectic city environment is far from ideal for these elephants, which are by nature forest dwellers.

The noise and traffic causes them considerable stress, not to mention the dangers posed by the traffic.

Every year many elephants are killed or injured in traffic accidents. City elephants are frequently malnourished and do not consume anywhere near the amount of food that they should eat every day just to prevent excretion on the streets.

In the daytime the city elephants are kept hidden away from view in unsuitable locations such as rubbish tips or disused car parks, often without adequate shade and no access to good food, only leaves from city trees intoxicated with pollutants.

Elephants are frequently drugged to keep them calm in the chaotic city environment.

Many city elephants suffer from respiratory diseases as a result of constantly breathing in polluted air and are at risk of standing on broken glass and other debris on the streets leading to infections.

They are not bathed regularly, as elephants should be, and this often leads to skin diseases.

Thailand has a thriving tourism industry. Unfortunately this has been exploited by people wishing to make money by using elephants as ‘entertainment’ and every day hundreds of animals are suffering at the hands of humans purely to make a profit for their owners.

They are forced to perform degrading and unnatural tricks, often being beaten with spike hammers. Kept on chains 24 hours a day, these animals lose their dignity and freedom and merely exist as moneymaking commodities. The elephants are worked hard, often with out shade, and denied the much needed time for eating, drinking and bathing.

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In many ways, this was an eye-opening trip. I met people from all over the world, many of whom were activists and seasoned travelers. I was exposed to a lot of new (to me) ideas which have stayed with me and had a big influence on my politics and lifestyle. Just last year, I met up with one of my friends from WFFT in Amsterdam and had a ball reminiscing about our days walking the elephants.

Ready for your first experience volunteering overseas?

A friend of mine, Cátia Lúcio, shares her experiences at WFFT here.

Volunteer with elephants through Globalteer in Thailand or Cambodia.

Volunteer Stories: Lindy Mei

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Lindy Mei: USA
I met Lindy a couple of years ago when we both volunteered for TSPCA walking and caring for dogs. Lindy joined an excursion I planned for the kids at Harmony Home Taiwan and was amazing. The kids took to her immediately and had so much fun, Since then, Lindy goes to help out with the kids in the Xin Yi centre whenever she can. You can read her advice here. 
I have volunteered with Harmony Home for almost three years and continue to be involved with them from the UK. We will be continuing out “Secret Santa” toy drive this year so I’ll be updating you all about that soon.
If you are interested in volunteering at Harmony Home, you can e-mail me at volunteerasia@hotmail.com and I will send you an application form and guidelines.

Volunteer Stories: Lorena Poitras

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Lorena Poitras: Canada

I met Lorena while living in Taiwan. She was very well known in the ex-pat community for her tireless efforts volunteering with Animals Taiwan and I was very excited that she agreed to write about her experiences.

This is a fantastic account of Lorena’s volunteer work with Animals Taiwan and an absolute must-read for anyone thinking about volunteering abroad. Lorena talks about culture differences and gives some really valuable advice.

You can read it here!

Volunteer Stories: Cátia Lúcio

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Cátia Lúcio: Portugal

I met Cátia in Thailand a number of years ago when we were both volunteering with Globalteer with Wildlife Friends of Thailand. It was the first time for both of us to volunteer overseas.

WFFT is about 6 hours north of Bangkok in the Petchaburi province and is a rescue centre for abuse and abandoned animals.  It is a beautiful location and I loved hearing all the sound of nature at night when we were sleeping. Cátia and I were in different programs, I was on the team who worked only with elephants whereas Cátia worked with many other animals. There were bears, crocodiles, monkeys, a horse, dogs, cats, iguanas and so many more I don’t remember.

It was a fairly expensive program, with a large donation to the centre but accommodation and three meals a day are provided. They cater for vegetarians too. Accommodation was shared rooms and pretty basic but you are right in the middle of the jungle and it was an experience like no other. I loved it! Your duties are mainly feeding and cleaning and there was lots of extra time for relaxing and socialising. It is also close to Cha Am and Hua Hin where you can go to the beach on your days off.

Before going: 

Visa: you can get a landing visa on arrival in Bangkok airport.

Vaccinations; I was vaccinated against rabies, typhoid, Hepatitus A and B

Medication: Malarial medication is a good idea in this area.

 

These are some pictures I took while volunteering at WFFT;

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